Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Where have all the women gone?

Two weeks ago, I asked this question about women in academia in the part of the world where my partner and I currently work when I wrote about the observation that there seemed to be fewer women in both my and my partner's departments than there we'd experienced in the States. Furthermore, I observed that no one in our respective departments seemed to think the current numbers odd. To be fair, since that post, I attended a large department gathering, the first after the semester had started, and realized that counting the new graduate students, the numbers are not as bad as I had previously assumed, but they are still pretty bad.

IBAM commented that perhaps the cultural norm was for women to work part time after having kids. Anecdotal evidence of our friends and neighbors seem to support this, and it is possible that if the perception is that a mother should work part time after children, then women who want kids are more likely to choose fields where that is possible (i.e. NOT academia).

This got me thinking. Not being a cultural anthropologist with a focus on gender issues, I turned to The Googlz. Wanna see a scary movie?


Oh my, are the girls sexay. (Yes, girls. They all look like jail bait to me.) This was the ad put out by the European Commission's initial attempt this June to promote female participation in science. It's been widely mocked and since retracted, but the front page for the "It's a girl thing" campaign is still a bit frivolous and pink for my liking. Meh. Maybe it's just a matter of taste. Show me some data, you say.

This scary graph keeps popping up wherever I look.

For a better view, check out page 73 of this PDF.[1] The shades of violet are female percentage of women in 2002 and 2006. The shades of salmon are the same stats for men. The points on the x-axis correspond to advanced stages of an academic career, starting with a graduate student (or equivalent), ending with tenured faculty (or equivalent). But it gets better. Page 74 of the same report has the following graph, looking only at the numbers in the sciences and engineering departments [1]

Okay, so what about the US? The NSF collects fairly good data about this on a regular basis. From their 2011 report, I was able to dig up the following graphs.[2]

These are the percentages for female full time, full professors in the sciences and engineering (essentially Grade A from the EC data):

The NSF has data about PostDoc (Grade C in the EC Data) held at US institutions by gender and citizenship status.[3] There is much more flux of scholars coming to the US from outside of it that to the EU from outside of it. I feel like I should recognize that the data for non US residents is different than the data for US residents, though I don't know what the implications of the distinction are.


The NSF also has data about PhD's granted in Science and Engineering from 2001 to 2010, (the fourth dot in the EC data.)


So what have I learned? My perception that there are fewer women in my field in the EU than in the States at all advanced degree levels matches the data about the presence of women in Science and Engineering fields in the US versus the EU. There are several ways to break this down further. There are, of course regional and field variations that I have not delved into yet. There is the question of how much the lack of female presence has to do with current hiring policy than with previous hiring policy. I still haven't come close to addressing whether or not more women work part time in the EU, and how this interacts with the number of women seen in academia. I leave this for future investigations.

I hope this turns into a regular blog series, though the posts will be spaced some distance apart due to time constraints. If you have any comments or thoughts or questions you would like to see answered, I welcome them. I especially welcome comments from European readers, since the main point of this project is to understand gender and academia in Europe.



[1] She figures 2009: Statistics and Indicators on Gender Equality in Science, European Commission Report, EUR 23856 EN
[2] Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, Digest, 2011 (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/digest)
[3] Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, Data Tables, 2011 (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/tables.cfm)

1 comment:

  1. Antisocial ScientistOctober 16, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    This is true for departments on both sides of the Atlantic I have been at. I am looking at the number for male versus female grad students and wondering whether that is a clue as to what is happening in Europe. Each move (grad school, post doc, another postdoc, real job) is a family decision if there is a family. Relocating between countries in Europe is still more of a pain than between states in the US. (Legally it is easy, but existing as a parent or working in a non-academia business in a country you don't really speak the language in is harder than being a grad student.) If this means that a person is less likely to get an offer which is acceptable to a working spouse this would make each step harder for women, who are more likely to be paired with a working spouse than men. Could this be part of the erosion at each step?

    (Note that this isn't meant to deny the existence of sexism or discrimination, merely to consider an additional pathway.)

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